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Trump’s Attacks on Mail-In Voting in Las Vegas Could End Up at the Supreme Court

If SCOTUS conjures some pretext to invalidate mail ballots, it could render the 2020 election a smoldering ruin. 

President Trump speaks at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino on September 13, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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The Trump campaign and Nevada Republicans have asked a state court to stop Nevada from counting its mailed-in ballots in the diverse Las Vegas/Clark County jurisdiction. The suit joins a wide range of GOP attempts to shut down the counting of such votes in swing states like Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

The Republicans’ pretext seems to be over how the ballots are scrutinized. But the real reason could lie in the fact that Clark is the state’s most diverse county, with more than 31 percent Latinx citizens, 13 percent Black and about 10 percent Asian American. As Trump well knows, citizens of color tend to vote in ways he does not like.

With no credible legal basis, the Nevada lawsuit is among the many clear signs that Trump and the Republicans are committed to relentlessly sabotaging the popular vote. With another extreme Trumpist just joining the Supreme Court, there’s little doubt the Trump campaign intends to move this and other lawsuits in Nevada and elsewhere as far as they can, hoping to delay the vote counting in swing states to the “safe harbor” of its right-wing Supreme Court majority.

If SCOTUS eventually approves one or more such assaults on voting by mail, and succeeds in hopelessly complicating the requirements for counting mailed-in ballots, as Trump is trying to do in Nevada, the ultimate decision in this election could be shifted from millions of voters to the right-wing judges on the Supreme Court.

In the face of the pandemic, Nevada has ordered ballots mailed to all registered voters. In the eyes of the Trump Republicans, this is the ultimate act of terror, raising the terminal specter of a functional democracy. It forms the basis for a public election that could proceed smoothly, and could quickly provide a fair outcome that reflects the real intent of the general electorate.

Trump has been infamously sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service, delaying many of the ballots’ returns. But Nevada’s ballots were mailed out weeks ago.

Trump has also injected chaos into the process, screaming at every turn that the election is “fraudulent.” GOP attacks have focused strongly on deadlines for acceptance of mailed-in ballots, working to discard even those postmarked on or even prior to November 3, but which arrive late.

Court decisions on these and other issues have become a toxic morass of contradictory rulings, with “acceptable” procedures varying wildly from state to state, all awaiting final rulings from a heavily politicized SCOTUS.

As elsewhere, the universal ballot mailing has been strongly endorsed by Nevada’s duly elected governor, by its legislature (the first in U.S. history with a majority of women) and by its secretary of state. Such procedures have been standard practice in Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii for many years.

When the bill passed the Nevada legislature and was signed by its governor in early August, Trump sued. Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State, Barbara Cegavske, moved to dismiss, arguing that, “Absent a concrete and particularized injury to plaintiffs, the court has no jurisdiction to intervene in election preparations. Because Plaintiffs have failed to plead facts from which one might reasonably infer that an injury is actual and imminent, not hypothetical, the court should dismiss their claims for lack of jurisdiction.”

In other words — Nevada to Trump: drop dead.

As per its legislation, the state has already begun counting ballots. As they are coming in almost entirely on paper, they will be counted almost entirely on digital scanners, which can produce an extremely accurate and rapid vote count.

Trump has trailed consistently in Nevada’s public opinion polls. With a fair vote count, he is widely expected to lose a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 by about 2.5 percent.

But now that he’s added another right-wing extremist to the Supreme Court, Trump is certain to use this suit as a vehicle to undermine the Nevada election — and with it, the nation’s as a whole.

Any legal basis on which Trump might claim fraud or personal injury from Nevada’s relatively smooth conduct of this year’s election would be pure partisan fantasy. Solidly supported by its top officials, any Supreme Court attack on the conduct of Nevada’s election would have to derive from a full-frontal attack on vote by mail itself, one that could resonate throughout the swing states that are likely to decide the election.

That Trump himself votes by mail would be deemed as being of no consequence. The six right-wingers who now dominate the Court might choose to use this procedural challenge as a pretext by which the idea of mailing ballots to registered voters and counting them quickly and efficiently could be found to be somehow unworkable.

In other words, the Court would undermine virtually the entire basis of this year’s voting. There would be just one clear beneficiary: Donald Trump.

It would be the clearest, most egregious partisan judicial attack on democracy since the founding of the republic.

But given the personnel now on the Court, it’s an entirely possible outcome.

Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett have all been appointed by Trump. Along with Kavanaugh and Barrett, John Roberts was an active partisan in the infamous Bush v. Gore decision trashing the popular will in the 2000 election that enthroned George W. Bush despite his having lost the public vote. Clarence Thomas voted in favor of that decision from the bench. Hard-rightist Samuel Alito can be expected to join any decision meant to further the dictatorial powers of Donald Trump.

The SCOTUS trashing of deadline extensions in the various states did get a comeuppance in the case of Vermont, when Brett Kavanaugh was forced to correct an erroneous characterization of the state’s rules and procedures. But its assault on equitable distribution of drop boxes, ID and witness requirements, the demand that ex-felons pay fines before being allowed to vote and other selective limitation of the franchise has been unrelenting.

Like Trump himself, the six SCOTUS rightists appear to have no moral or ethical qualms about undermining the will of the American public in an election based on democratic principles and practices.

How the public would react to the official sabotage of this year’s election with no real legal basis remains to be seen.

But if the Court conjures some pretext to destroy Nevada’s and other swing states’ vote-by-mail systems by stopping the ballot counting and disqualifying ballots that arrive late, it will be 2000 all over again. It will replay Bush v. Gore, with which the SCOTUS majority — and a disenfranchised American public — is so familiar.

Doing that could render the 2020 election a smoldering ruin.

The question would then become: How would the public react to the dictatorial destruction of the last vestiges of U.S. democracy?

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